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Choosing the right dog. Finding the right size, breed, and temperament.

Updated on December 6, 2012

Lots of Dogs!

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Me many years ago, with Lady (black) and Corky (gold).Corky, believed to be a Cocker Spaniel Mix.  We got Corky from the pound in Portales, New Mexico, in 1993.  Corky lived to 2006.Corky, with shaved fur.Left- Jack; Right- DiogiDiogi, her paperwork says Belgian Shepherd Mix, believed to also have Golden Retriever genes.  1999-2012Jack, my families newest addition.  Labrador Mix we got from Doc Williams SPCA in Goose Creek, SC in February 2012, 2.5yrs.Lady; with Marie holding Slinky the ferret.Lady; Dachshund Mix; adopted from Clovis, NM animal shelter in 1994. 1991-2006MaiLinMaiLin; Pure-bred Pekinese; rescued from Puppy Mill, 1992, 1988-2002 Onyx; My Aunt and Uncles Schnauzer.   Penny; Pure-breed Chihuahua, Adopted from animal shelter in Pensacola, Fl.  Was considered un-adoptable, my mother took her anyway, she became a wonderful companion after some time and effort.Daisy and Toby;  Daisy is a Pug-Chihuahua mix. She was given up by her original owner because the owner felt she was too ugly!Toby- Red Miniature Pincher, possibly mix with Chihuahua.   Adopted in 2010, 4 yrs old.  Had severe heartworm infection and has dog-aggression problems.  Healed and trained.Weenie; pure-breed Dachshund; adopted from a friend as a puppy.  1992-2001
Me many years ago, with Lady (black) and Corky (gold).
Me many years ago, with Lady (black) and Corky (gold).
Corky, believed to be a Cocker Spaniel Mix.  We got Corky from the pound in Portales, New Mexico, in 1993.  Corky lived to 2006.
Corky, believed to be a Cocker Spaniel Mix. We got Corky from the pound in Portales, New Mexico, in 1993. Corky lived to 2006.
Corky, with shaved fur.
Corky, with shaved fur.
Left- Jack; Right- Diogi
Left- Jack; Right- Diogi
Diogi, her paperwork says Belgian Shepherd Mix, believed to also have Golden Retriever genes.  1999-2012
Diogi, her paperwork says Belgian Shepherd Mix, believed to also have Golden Retriever genes. 1999-2012
Jack, my families newest addition.  Labrador Mix we got from Doc Williams SPCA in Goose Creek, SC in February 2012, 2.5yrs.
Jack, my families newest addition. Labrador Mix we got from Doc Williams SPCA in Goose Creek, SC in February 2012, 2.5yrs.
Lady; with Marie holding Slinky the ferret.
Lady; with Marie holding Slinky the ferret.
Lady; Dachshund Mix; adopted from Clovis, NM animal shelter in 1994. 1991-2006
Lady; Dachshund Mix; adopted from Clovis, NM animal shelter in 1994. 1991-2006
MaiLin
MaiLin
MaiLin; Pure-bred Pekinese; rescued from Puppy Mill, 1992, 1988-2002
MaiLin; Pure-bred Pekinese; rescued from Puppy Mill, 1992, 1988-2002
Onyx; My Aunt and Uncles Schnauzer.
Onyx; My Aunt and Uncles Schnauzer.
Penny; Pure-breed Chihuahua, Adopted from animal shelter in Pensacola, Fl.  Was considered un-adoptable, my mother took her anyway, she became a wonderful companion after some time and effort.
Penny; Pure-breed Chihuahua, Adopted from animal shelter in Pensacola, Fl. Was considered un-adoptable, my mother took her anyway, she became a wonderful companion after some time and effort.
Daisy and Toby;  Daisy is a Pug-Chihuahua mix. She was given up by her original owner because the owner felt she was too ugly!
Daisy and Toby; Daisy is a Pug-Chihuahua mix. She was given up by her original owner because the owner felt she was too ugly!
Toby- Red Miniature Pincher, possibly mix with Chihuahua.   Adopted in 2010, 4 yrs old.  Had severe heartworm infection and has dog-aggression problems.  Healed and trained.
Toby- Red Miniature Pincher, possibly mix with Chihuahua. Adopted in 2010, 4 yrs old. Had severe heartworm infection and has dog-aggression problems. Healed and trained.
Weenie; pure-breed Dachshund; adopted from a friend as a puppy.  1992-2001
Weenie; pure-breed Dachshund; adopted from a friend as a puppy. 1992-2001

It is important to know what you are looking for before you go choose your new pet.

It’s the holiday season and you’ve decided to get a dog. There are many things to keep in mind before making a decision. You wouldn’t go out and buy a new house or car on a whim; a pet should be picked out with the same kind of forethought and research. A pet is a long-term commitment of time, energy, money, and most importantly, love.

First, you need to answer some basic questions:

1. How much can you afford for food, grooming, vet bills, and other necessities?
2. Do you want to deal with brushing and vacuuming regularly?
3. Do you want a guardian, a best friend, or a show-dog?
4. What size dog would be best for your family?
5. Do you have the time, and the willingness to exercise the dog?
6. If you rent, or live in a neighborhood with an HOA (Home Owners Association), what are the rules in your lease or by-laws?
7. Do you have children?
8. Are you away from home a lot with work or travel?
9. How much effort do you want to put into training?
10. How long is the dog going to live?

Some considerations to help you answer the above questions:

1. Look at your family’s budget and make sure there is enough to go toward animal care including vet bills, expected and unexpected. A larger dog will eat much more, and many pure-bred dogs will have more medical bills. Some breeds are inherently healthier. Generally, the larger the dog, the shorter the life-span. Large dogs also have a tendency toward arthritis and hip problems. Teacup breeds are prone to multiple, life-long health problems due to in-breeding. Generally, mutts are healthier because of the wide mix of genes.

The ASPCA offers a great tool for finding the cost of animal care here: http://www.aspca.org/adoption/pet-care-costs.aspx Please keep in mind this chart is only an estimate, and the food costs listed are well below what I pay, using higher quality food. For example, my Labrador mix (70lbs) eats about one 30lb bag of Taste of the Wild dog food per month. Each bag costs about $30 so that’s $30 per month just for food. Remember, a higher quality, grain free food, such as Taste of the Wild, Nature Source, and EVO, is much more important than the cost. Their stools will be smaller, firmer and less frequent so an added bonus is fewer cleanups for you. Don’t forget to add in other expenses, such as grooming, vet bills, flea control and heartworm prevention. I would also recommend that you have an emergency fund in savings, in case there is a problem with your pet. Most veterinarians are unable or unwilling to accept payments anymore, and you may not qualify for the Care Credit program, which many vets do accept. Care Credit is similar to a credit card but is used exclusively for medical expenses, including pets at participating providers. Check here for more information. http://www.carecredit.com/vetmed/

2. Bringing any animal into your home is going to increase the amount of vacuuming and sweeping necessary. The length and type of the coat, as well as your climate determines the amount of shedding. 1800PetMeds has a useful chart showing dog breeds and how much they each shed. http://www.1800petmeds.com/education/dog-breed-coat-shedding-9.htm
With long haired dogs, regular brushing and bathing is required to prevent mats and decrease shedding. In my experience, a wire coat will leave less shedding on your floor and furniture, this is because the attached hair holds onto the shed hair. Like a long hair coat, you have to bathe and brush them regularly, or they will get severe mats. These mats can lead to skin problems and also make it difficult for the dog to move about. Imagine your arm and side stuck together by a tangle of hair, and every time you move your arm, it pulls the hair and hurts.
Short haired and smooth coat dogs require less brushing and grooming over all, but they do shed. Again, brushing regularly will reduce the amount of shedding you have to deal with. Going with a hairless variety might seem like a great idea to avoid dog hair problems, but these animals have to be treated very carefully. They burn easily, and require sun lotion to be outdoors. Often they get cold very easily also, which can lead to illness, or behavior problems. Keep all this in mind as you decide what you are willing and able to deal with.

3. Are you looking for a guard dog, a companion, or a show-dog? With the right choice for your family, you can even have a little of all three! Let me point out that guard dogs aren’t born, they are trained, and any dog can become a guard dog. While a larger dog may be more effective in scaring off the bad guys; without training, it may become a menace to visitors, workers, and even neighbors walking by. The temperament of a dog will greatly increase its ability to be trained in the way you want. If you want a guard dog, you will not want a dog that sees everyone as its best friend. For a companion, that same dog would be a great choice. If you’re looking for a show-dog, you still need to keep temperament in mind, remember just because it is cute, doesn’t mean it meets the rest of your family’s needs. Both nature and nurture affect how a dog behaves. It is a good idea to spend time with the animal before you adopt it.

4. What size dog would be best? To answer this you need to answer a few other questions. How big is your home and yard? How much exercise are you willing and able to give it. The bigger the dog, the more space it will need. A large dog can live in an apartment, but you will need to run with it regularly while a smaller dog can get much of its exercise inside your home.
How strong are you and the person who will be the primary walker? If you are getting the dog for an older child, who will be walking it themselves, be sure they can control any animal you choose. Never adopt a dog all adult members of the family cannot control. For example; Last time we were picking out a dog, my husband had his heart set on a beautiful hound dog mix until I tried to walk her, and she nearly broke my arm.
Some small dogs have high-pitched barks that can be very annoying. The higher pitched barks carry farther and may cause problems with your neighbors. Here is an interesting, and in my experience fairly accurate chart of breeds and problem barking; http://www.barkingdogs.net/excessivebarking.shtml

5. How much time and energy do you have for exercise? Some dogs require large amounts of exercise. Some will simply run like mad around a back yard all on their own, some will not do anything without you or a companion (dog/kid/etc.) exercising it. To some degree this can be narrowed down by size and breed. Check here for a great list of laid-back breeds; http://www.dogguide.net/laid-back-dogs.php
Check here for a listing of more active breeds, great for running kids or each other, or if you like to run/jog yourself; http://animal.discovery.com/breed-selector/dog-breeds/energetic-dog-breeds.html
Remember each of these are only guidelines, especially with mixed-breed dogs. Meet the dog, spend time with it, and discuss your needs with the shelter workers or breeders.

6. Be sure you know if there are rules/restrictions regarding pets where you live. Apartments and home rentals often have breed and size restrictions, as well as hefty pet-fees. Many cities also have breed restrictions in place.

7. Is the dog for a child, or the whole family? Let children voice what their preferences and take part in the decision but make sure each child understands the dog is for the whole family. You can make a trip to the shelter a big part of the special day. Give the child guidelines he/she must follow, and be sure they understand them before you arrive at the shelter/store. You do not want your child to fall in love with a Mastiff, when you had a spaniel-size in mind. Also be sure they understand that you might not get one immediately; that getting the right dog is more important than getting one right now. It may be a good idea to visit the shelter, pet store, or breeder ahead of time, and have a couple choices you can steer the child towards.

8. Are you away from home a lot? Do you travel, or work 12+ hour days? Do you have someone willing and happy to come by and help with the animal, or are you going to need to board it regularly? Do not assume your neighbor or family member is going to want to take care of your dog; have a plan in place before you get the dog. Have money in savings as a contingency in case boarding is necessary. It helps to be familiar with facilities before the need arises so call around to local boarders and find out costs involved and visit facilities before choosing one. Another option is a company that will come to your home and take care of your pet. They will come 2-3 times per day, walk, feed and even bathe it if you wish.
Do you wish to bring the dog with you when you travel? Keep in mind how you travel, and how much space you will have while traveling. You will need to figure in costs of plane and/or hotel surcharges. Remember to add extra time on road trips for potty breaks and exercise, and for finding dog-friendly rest-stops and parks along the way.

9. How much time, money, and effort are you willing to put into training a dog? All dogs will need training, either by you, or by taking an obedience course. A puppy will need house-trained, chew-trained, command trained and more. An adult dog from a shelter may have already been trained, often the shelter workers can tell you, either from the previous owner’s information, or from their observation. If you do not have time and energy to put into training, you might want to check newspapers. Often, military families who get transferred overseas cannot bring their animals with them, and these animals may already be well trained. (More information later on safely handling a private adoption.) Also, many pet stores, shelters, and breeders will include a basic training course with the adoption cost.

10. One more important thing to remember is how long will the dog live? The average life-span for a smaller breed dog is much higher than a larger breed dog. You need to consider the life-span for several reasons. First, if the dog is for your child, who will keep the dog while they are in college? Most colleges do not allow pets in dorms. If you are elderly, or have health issues, you will need a plan in case the dog outlives you, or you become unable to take care of it.
It is often a good idea to stagger the ages of your dogs if you have more than one. It is very hard to lose your dog, but having another already in your heart can ease the loss. When you have children, often it will be easier for them when one dies, if there is already another dog in the home. When our golden retriever got very old, and began getting sick, we got our Labrador, and although my children were still sad when the older dog passed on, having the new dog helped them adjust.
These sites can help you estimate how long the dog you are choosing may live. Not all breeds are listed, but you can infer by sizes how long yours might live. http://www.vetinfo.com/dog-life-span.html http://users.pullman.com/lostriver/breeddata.htm

Once you have answered all these questions, you should have a very good idea of the type of dog you will be looking for. If you are willing to have a mutt, or just do not need papers, such as AKC registrations, go to your local shelter, there are many wonderful animals waiting for homes. Most shelters animals have been thoroughly checked out by veterinarians, treated for problems, and spayed/neutered, and often mixed-breeds are healthier and longer lived then pure-bred dogs.

If you want a pure-bred dog, consider looking into a pure-breed rescue group, these groups often take very sick and mistreated dogs from puppy-farms and rehabilitate them. Here is a link to a listing of them through the AKC; http://www.akc.org/breeds/rescue.cfm

While there are some decent breeders out there, be sure that you research them carefully. I recommend visiting the breeder without an appointment so you can see how the animals are truly treated. Be careful to avoid puppy farm animals, most pet store puppies come from these atrocities. Many years ago my mother rescued a Pekingese who had been a breeder dog and kept miscarrying. They said she had problems with UTI’s. After bringing her to the veterinarian, we found out she had 7 types of worms and a uterine infection. So please be careful who you are giving your money to.

Discuss with the breeder, shelter, or pet store what you are looking for, and listen to their suggestions, these people spend more time with the animals then you will be able to, and often know them well. If at all possible, do not adopt the animal immediately; ask them to hold it for 24 hours while you consider it. If you wait a few hours, or ‘sleep’ on it, you are much less likely to make a rash decision that may be regretted. Do NOT let anyone bully you into making an immediate choice.

When dealing with a private adoption, get an agreement that your veterinarian gets to check out the dog before you adopt it. Have them meet you at the vet’s office, and ask them to bring all medical records with them. If they will not agree, it is a good chance there is something wrong with the animal. A few years ago, a friend adopted a Chihuahua for very little cost, only to find out later the dog had heart worms. Several hundred dollars’ worth of treatments later, the heartworms are gone, but the dog was left with permanent health problems.

Remember that adopting a dog is a long-term commitment. Please do not enter into it rashly, and be certain you are able to properly provide for your new animal. If you make the right choice for you and your family, you won’t just have a pet; you’ll have a new family member who will bring years of joy to you and yours.

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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi Val great comprehensive article and helpful links for first time dog owners. I will share this on twitter.

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      What a great topic. Too often people buy a dog by emotions, rather than, things like how much will it cost to feed them or are they prone to health issues, etc. Voted up!

    • Val Swabb profile image
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      Val Swabb 4 years ago from South Carolina

      Thank you both for the kind comments. And Dr Mark, you are welcome to share it. I've seen too many families wind up with a dog they just couldn't handle, when a little bit of fore-thought would have prevented the problem!

    • profile image

      Mellowsong 4 years ago

      Great blog once again and quite timely :)

    • Val Swabb profile image
      Author

      Val Swabb 4 years ago from South Carolina

      Thank you MellowSong

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      Very helpful information here. I did intensive research when my family picked out our first dog. Since most of my family has an allergy to animals, we had to find one that wouldn't trigger them. Our first dog was a Lhasa, which we bred with a Bichon. The puppies are registered as LaChons and are terrific for families with allergies. It is best to make sure to do your homework so that you find the perfect dog to fit your family. Great job!

    • Val Swabb profile image
      Author

      Val Swabb 4 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks tlpoague! I think I'm going to work up a paragraph to add in about being sure of your families allergies before bringing one home too, I've known a few families that adopted, only to realize later allergies were a problem. Thanks for the info about Lhasas and Bichons. I had heard that of Lhasa's but not heard that about Bichons.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      Some claim that the Bichons won't affect people with allergies, but for some reason she set off my hubby's. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful home for her. The family gives me updates when we see them. They claim that she is just like one of the kids. I was happy because when we adopted her, she came from a neglected home. The women would spoil her, but the men would torment her. She hated anyone wearing a hat.

      If you are interested to know more information about the LaChons, check out a few of my hubs. I had posted them for people that were looking for a dog, but couldn't find one because of their allergies. Since they do have long hair (because of the Lhasa side) they can be high maintenance. I groom my own dog to cut down on the cost.

      Just an added note: Even though there are breeds that are claimed to be low allergy dogs, make sure that those breeds don't trigger an allergy attack. Poodles triggered one with my hubby too.

      Great hub here!

    • Val Swabb profile image
      Author

      Val Swabb 4 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks again tlP

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